Hollywoodland (Allen Coulter, 2006)

Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland is good, but good as a collection of performances than an actual thriller, and far better as the story of George Reeves than a noir. Adrien Brody's a terrific actor, but when someone compared him to Ralph Meeker, I wanted to laugh (okay, it was probably meant to be ironic--but I still wanted to laugh); the rest of his co-actors don't really make much of an impression (although Diane Lane makes a devastatingly sexy elder matron). 

It's when the movie goes into flashbacks that it really comes to life, and it's amazing that Ben Affleck, of all people, comes through best here. He probably doesn't capture the real Reeves (I haven't seen all that many episodes of the show, just enough to get a faint impression) so much as he creates a Reeves we can all identify with--ambitious, not a bit unscrupulous, charming nevertheless, and overall--and this is the tragedy of his life--haunted by the sense that he's not really as good as he makes himself out to be.

He does get to humanize what's essentially a cardboard character and a two-bit actor's interpretation of it: just before jumping into action in a children's party, he looks down to his crotch and asks (with apparently sincere interest) "does my penis show?" During the show's filming, he grabs Lois Lane and starts humping her saying "Here's the Man of Steel!" and "More powerful than a locomotive;" the actor playing Perry White makes his entrance and can only say "Great Ceasar's Ghost!" Affleck's Reeves gives us a hint of the things an adult, playing what's essentially an absurd children's show character, might think or feel underneath the relentlessly wholesome exterior. 

But the real thrill is seeing this man of flab (Affleck bulked up for the role) step into the costume of the Man of Steel, and somehow, as if by magic, his back straightens, his face brightens, and he seems to put on an air of invincibility--this was the kind of transformation I saw Chistopher Reeve do in his Superman movies and what I failed to see Brandon Routh fail to do in his Superman movie (Routh seems incapable of slouching, much less transforming); it's something of a treat for Affleck to throw in that same conceit here, with his small-screen Superman, that the costume--that hot, smelly, heavy outfit Reeves hated so much--somehow has the power to change someone, even if only for a time.

The picture isn't crazy--it doesn't have the exuberant sense of style or spirit of experimentation of De Palma's The Black Dahlia (I know, I'm in the minority on this)--but through Affleck (I still can't get over it) it does tell the story of one man's low meteoric trajectory. This is easily the best, most moving Superman film I've ever seen. Well, maybe not--I still have a weakness for Richard Lester's funny, sexually sophisticated Superman 2--but I'd say this comes a close second. And Affleck, after Reeves in Superman 2, is easily the best Superman I've ever seen.

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